Lashings of Insight – Part II

One reason for the ISA’s enduring popularity is the sheer variety of presentations on offer. Anyone weary at the prospect of attending yet another panel on, say, constructivist critiques of neo-colonialism, or a reconsideration of the English School perspective on regional integration, can simply browse the telephone book-like ISA program and almost certainly find something of interest.

I am drawn typically to sessions offered by the Association’s Diplomatic Studies and International Communications sections. But I am attracted as well to discussions organized by other sections – intelligence, or foreign policy analysis, for example. Those panels which touch on the core issues of issues of guerrilla diplomacy, namely security, development and globalization, are of particular interest.

Following is an eclectic and highly distilled dollop of all that, garnished with a side order of commentary acquired in conversation:

  • globalization is down, but not necessarily out as the defining historical process of our age; palatable alternative options are not on the horizon
  • public diplomacy in large part is the new diplomacy, but it will never completely displace traditional diplomacy, and could usefully be adapted for use by the representatives of developing countries in the cities of the metropolis
  • major international organizations (UN/IFIs) were designed by the USA in post-war years primarily in order to serve US interests; American dominance has waned, its interests have changed, and most institutions now require radical reform or complete re-invention
  • evidence of direct correlation between climate change and incidence of conflict is uncertain and possibly exaggerated (cf. Gwynne Dyer’s Climate Wars)
  • growing popularity and influence of Al Jazeera English may be more significant over time than foreign policy decisions/ actions taken by many of world’s governments
  • Russia is currently the wild card in the international system – armed, dangerous, re-assertive, but falling faster and harder than EU or US; a collapsing  Russian economy will be more significant than religion or nationalism in conditioning outcomes in the Eurasian colossus
  • India’s latent economic and military power has not yet translated into real international influence, it almost certainly will, but not anytime soon
  • al-Qaeda is now more of a brand than a centralized terrorist network, but the brand has been damaged by setbacks in Iraq, Jordan and Palestinian territories; response by brand managers is centred on internet marketing and heavily reliant upon new media
  • Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Shia militias in Iraq, all with deep roots in populations and territories, are likely to outlast al-Qaeda
  • number of fragile, failing and collapsed states is set again to increase, but the track record of donor countries in nation-building is mixed  to poor
  • inability of NATO members to agree on grand strategy for Afghanistan may result in participating ISAF members joining the ranks of outsiders who have tried, but inevitably failed to have their way with this “graveyard of empires.”

In all, quite a lot to chew on.

The theme for next year’s event is Theory vs. Policy: Connecting Scholars and Practitioners. While compelling enough in itself, the venue is New Orleans, a city still struggling almost five years after the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina revealed so much to so many about the hollowing out of the American state.

Stay tuned.